« PreviousContinue »
Chancery during term, and he maintained his equitable jurisdiction with a very high hand, deciding without the assistance of common law judges, and with very little regard to the common law.
'If he was sneered at for his ignorance of the doctrines and practice of the Court, he had his revenge by openly complaining that the lawyers who practised before him were grossly ignorant of the civil law and the principles of general jurisprudence; and he has been described as often interrupting their pleadings, and bitterly animadverting on their narrow notions and limited arguments. To remedy an evil which troubled the stream of justice at the fountain-head, he, with his usual magnificence of conception, projected an institution, to be founded in London, for the systematic study of all branches of the law. He even furnished an architectural model for the building, which was considered a masterpiece, and remained long after his death as a curiosity in the palace at Greenwich. Such an institution is still a desideratum in England; for, with splendid exceptions, it must be admitted that English barristers, though very clever practitioners, are not such able jurists as are to be found in other countries where law is systematically studied as a science.
On Wolsey's fall his administration of justice was strictly overhauled; but no complaint was made against him of bribery or corruption, and the charges were merely that he had examined many matters in Chancery after judgment given at common law ;-that he had unduly granted injunctions ;- and that when his injunctions were disregarded by the Judges, he had sent for those venerable magistrates and sharply reprimanded them for their obstinacy. He is celebrated for the vigour with which he repressed perjury and chicanery in his Court, and he certainly enjoyed the reputation of having conducted himself as Chancellor with fidelity and ability,—although it was not till a later age that the foundation was laid of that well-defined system of equity now established, which is so well adapted to all the wants of a wealthy and refined society, and, leaving little discretion to the Judge, disposes satisfactorily of all the varying cases within the wide scope of its jurisdiction.
'I am afraid I cannot properly conclude this sketch of the Life of Wolsey without mentioning that of his own body he was ill, and gave the clergy ill example.” He had a natural son, named Winter, who was promoted to be Dean of Wells, and for whom he procured a grant of “arms” from the Heralds' College. The 38th article of his impeachment shows that he had for his mistress a lady of the name of Lark, by whom he had two other children; there were various amours in which he was suspected of having indulged, and his health had suffered from his dissolute life. But we must not suppose that the scandal arising from such irregularities was such as would be occasioned by them at the present day. A very different standard of morality then prevailed: churchmen, debarred from marriage, were often licensed to keep concubines, and as the Popes themselves were in this respect by no means infallible, the frailties of a Cardinal were not considered any insuperable bar either to secular or spiritual preferment. 'In judging him we must remember his deep contrition for his back
slidings; slidings; and the memorable lesson which he taught with his dying breath, that, to ensure true comfort and happiness, a man must addict himself to the service of God, instead of being misled by the lures of pleasure and ambition.
The subsequent part of Henry's reign is the best panegyric on Wolsey ; for, during twenty-nine years, he had kept free from the stain of blood or violence the Sovereign, who now, following the natural bent of his character, cut off the heads of his wives and his most virtuous ministers, and proved himself the most arbitrary tyrant that ever disgraced the throne of England.'
The life of Wolsey's venerated successor, More, is entitled to similar praise. Notwithstanding all the labour and skill of so many able predecessors, Lord Campbell has brought out the whole story with, we inust say, unrivalled felicity. We can afford, however, only a few trivial specimens of this rich biography :
After diligently searching the books, I find the report of only one judgment which he pronounced during his chancellorship, and this I shall give in the words of the reporter :
6“ It happened on a time that a beggar-woman's little dog, which she had lost, was presented for a jewel to Lady More, and she had kept it some se'nnight very carefully ; but at last the beggar had notice where her dog was, and presently she came to complain to Sir Thomas, as he was sitting in his hall, that his lady withheld her dog from her. Presently my Lady was sent for, and the dog brought with her; which Sir Thomas, taking in his hands, caused his wife, because she was the worthier person, to stand at the upper end of the hall, and the beggar at the lower end, and saying that he sat there to do every one justice, he bade each of them call the dog ; which, when they did, the dog went presently to the beggar, forsaking my Lady. When he saw this, he bade my Lady be contented, for it was none of hers; yet she, repining at the sentence of my Lord Chancellor, agreed with the beggar, and gave her a piece of gold, which would well have bought three dogs, and so all parties were agreed; every one smiling to see his manner of inquiring out the truth.” It must be acknowledged that Solomon himself could not have heard and determined the case more wisely or equitably. *
'But a grave charge has been brought against the conduct of More while Chancellor-that he was a cruel and even bloody persecutor of the Lutherans. This is chiefly founded on a story told by Fox, the Martyrologist—" that Burnham, a reformer, was carried out of the Middle Temple to the Chancellor's house at Chelsea, where he continued in free prison awhile, till the time that Sir Thomas More saw that he could not prevail in perverting of him to his sect. Then he cast him into prison in his own house, and whipped him at the tree in his garden called “the tree of Troth," and after sent him to the Tower to be racked.”+ Burnet and other very zealous Protestants have likewise
* • For some cases in pari materia, vid. Rep. Barat. Tem. Sanch. Pan.'
+ Mart, vol, ii. Hist, Reform. vol. iji. "When More was raised to the chief in the ministry, be became a persecutor even to blood, and defiled those bands which were never polluted with bribes.' VOL. LXXVII. NO. CLIII.
countenanced countenanced the supposition that More's house was really converted into a sort of prison of the Inquisition, he himself being the Grand Inquisitor; and that there was a tree in his grounds where the Reformers so often underwent flagellation under his superintendence, that it acquired the appellation of “the tree of Troth.” But let us hear what is said on this subject by More himself—allowed on all hands (however erroneous his opinions on religion) to have been the most sincere, candid, and truthful of men : “ Divers of them have said, that of such as were in my house when I was Chancellor, I used to examine them with torments, causing them to be bound to a tree in my garden, and there piteously beaten. Except their sure keeping, I never else did cause any such thing to be done unto any of the heretics in all my life, except only twain: one was a child, and a servant of mine in mine own house, whom his father, ere he came to me, had nursed up in such matters, and set him to attend upon George Jay. This Jay did teach the child his ungracious heresy against the blessed sacrament of the altar; which heresy this child, in my house, began to teach another child. And upon that point I caused a servant of mine to strip him, like a child, before mine household, for amendment of himself and ensample of others. Another was one who, after he had fallen into these frantic heresies, soon fell into plain open frenzy; albeit that he had been in Bedlam, and afterwards, by beating and correction, gathered his remembrance. Being therefore set at liberty, his old frenzies fell again into his head. Being informed of his relapse, I caused him to be taken by the constables, and bounden to a tree in the street, before the whole town, and there striped him till he waxed weary. Verily, God be thanked, I hear no harm of him now. And of all who ever came in my hand for heresy, as help me God, else had never any of them any stripe or stroke given them, so much as a fillip in the forehead.” *
• We must come to the conclusion that persons accused of heresy were confined in his house, though not treated with cruelty, and that the supposed tortures consisted in flogging one naughty boy, and administering stripes to one maniac, according to the received notion of the times, as a cure for his malady. The truth is, that More, though in his youth he had been a warm friend to religious toleration, and in his “ Utopia” he had published opinions on this subject rather latitudinarian, at last, alarmed by the progress of the Reformation, and shocked by the excesses of some of its votaries in Germany, became convinced of the expediency of uniformity of faith, or, at least, conformity in religious observances; but he never strained or rigorously enforced the laws against Lollardy. “It is,' says Erasmus, " a sufficient proof of his clemency, that while he was Chancellor no man was put to death for these pestilent dogmas, while so many, at the same period, suffered for them in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.”'
On More's fall, one of the charges urged against him before the Committee of Privy Council was, that he had provoked the king to set forth the Booke of the Seven Sacraments, whereby
* Apology, c. 36. English Works, 902.
the the title of Defender of the Faith had been gained, but in reality a sword put into the Pope's hand to fight against him, to his great dishonour in all parts of Christendom:'
' His answer lets us curiously into the secret history of Henry's refu. tation of Luther. “My Lords,” answered he, “ these terrors be frights for children, and not for me: but to answer that wherewith you chiefly burthen me, I believe the King's Highness, of his honour, will never lay that book to my charge ; for there is none that can, in that point, say more for my clearance than himself, who right well knoweth that I never was procurer, promoter, nor counsellor of his Majesty thereunto; only after it was finished, by his Grace's appointment, and the consent of the makers of the same, I only sorted out, and placed in order, the principal matters therein ; wherein, when I had found the Pope's authority highly advanced, and with strange arguments mightily defended, I said thus to his Grace: “I must put your Highness in mind of one thing-the Pope, as your Majesty well knoweth, is a prince, as you are, in league with all other Christian princes : it may hereafter fall out that your Grace and he may vary upon some points of the league, whereupon may grow breach of amity between you both; therefore I think it best that place be amended, and his authority more slenderly touched.” « Nay,” said the King, " that shall it not; we are so much bound to the See of Rome, that we cannot do too much honour unto it. Whatsoever impediment be to the contrary, we will set forth that authority to the uttermost; for we have received from that See our Crown imperial !” which till his Grace with his own mouth so told me, I never heard before. Which things well considered, I trust when his Majesty shall be truly informed thereof, and call to his gracious remembrance my sayings and doings in that behalf, his Highness will never speak more of it, but will clear me himself.” ?-vol. i. p. 562.
Henry VIII., however, must have condescended to great pains in the matter of the · Booke of the Seven Sacraments.' The MS. of it presented to the Pope with the distich
Anglorum Rex Henricus, Leo Decime, mittit
Hoc opus et fidei testem et amicitiæ, is still in the Vatican, and no one hitherto has disputed that the book, like the inscription, is in the writing of the king. Mr. Mathews ( Diary of an Invalid,' vol. i. p. 146) saw it in 1818, and that critical observer describes the autograph without hint of suspicion. We ourselves saw it lately, and by the side of it several of Henry's MS. letters to Anne Boleyn, and we certainly perceived no difference in the handwritings.
Sir Thomas More's character, says Lord CampbellBoth in public and in private life, comes as near to perfection as our nature will permit; and I must think that, in weighing it, there has been too much concession, on the score that the splendour of his great qualities was obscured by intolerance and superstition; and that he
voluntarily sought his death by violating a law which, with a safe conscience, he might have obeyed. We Protestants must lament that he was not a convert to the doctrines of the Reformation ; but they had as yet been very imperfectly expounded in England, and they had produced effects in foreign countries which might well alarm a man of constant mind. If he adhered conscientiously to the faith in which he had been educated, he can in no instance be blamed for the course he pursued. No good Roman Catholic could declare that the King's first marriage had been absolutely void from the beginning; or that the King could be vested, by act of parliament, with the functions of the Pope, as Head of the Anglican Church. Can we censure him for submitting to loss of office, imprisonment, and death, rather than make such a declaration ? He implicitly yielded to the law regulating the succession to the Crown; and he offered no active opposition to any other law ;-only requiring that on matters of opinion he might be permitted to remain silent.
"The English Reformation was a glorious event, for which we never can be sufficiently grateful to divine Providence: but I own I feel little respect for those by whose instrumentality it was first brought about;
-men generally swayed by their own worldly interests, and willing to sanction the worst passions of the tyrant to whom they looked for advancement. With all my Protestant zeal, I must feel a higher reverence for Sir Thomas More than for Thomas Cromwell or Cranmer.'- vol. i. pp. 582–583.
Of the Utopia, the biographer thus writes:
But the composition to which he attached no importance, which, as a jeu-d'esprit, occupied a few of his idle hours when he retired from the bar and before he was deeply immersed in the business of office, and which he was with great difficulty prevailed upon to publish, would of itself have made his name immortal. Since the time of Plato, there had been no composition given to the world which, for imagination, for philosophical discrimination, for a familiarity with the principles of government, for a knowledge of the springs of human action, for a keen · observation of men and manners, and for felicity of expression, could be compared to the Utopia. Although the word invented by More has been introduced into the language, to describe what is supposed to be impracticable and visionary,- the work (with some extravagance and absurdities, introduced perhaps with the covert object of softening the offence which might have been given by his satire upon the abuses of his age and country) abounds with lessons of practical wisdom. If I do not, like some, find in it all the doctrines of sound political economy illustrated by Adam Smith, I can distinctly point out in it the objections to a severe penal code, which have at last prevailed, after they had been long urged in vain by Romilly and Mackintosh ;—and as this subject is intimately connected with the history of the law of England, I hope I may be pardoned for giving the following extract to show the law reforms which Sir Thomas More would have introduced when Lord Chancellor, had he not been three centuries in allvance of his age: He